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Ohio casino regulator blasts Kentucky's sports-betting law

'It’s a fundamental mistake to open this up to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds'
Sports betting
Posted at 6:45 PM, Jun 06, 2023

CINCINNATI — Ohio’s top gambling regulator says Kentucky made “a fundamental mistake” by legalizing sports betting for people aged 18 and older.

But at least one company eligible for a sports-betting licenses in Kentucky says it will refuse bets from people under 21.

“I absolutely hate the idea that individuals under 21 can go across the border, open an account and bet,” said Matt Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission. “I think it’s horrible.”

Kentucky legalized sports betting on March 31, when Governor Andy Beshear signed House Bill 552 into law. No launch date has been set for the industry because rules are still being developed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Of the 37 states that legalized sports betting so far, Kentucky is among five that allows 18-year-olds to bet, according to the American Gaming Association.

“It’s consistent with all of our other gaming laws in Kentucky,” said Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, sponsor of the sports betting bill. “You can bet at a horse track in Kentucky when you’re 18. You can go to an HHR facility at 18 by statute. Now, several of our HHR facilities have self-regulated to 21 but the statute says 18. And then, you can buy lottery tickets in Kentucky at 18 too. So, it’s consistent with all of our other wagering laws.”

Ohio also allows 18-year-olds to bet on lottery games and horse races. But casinos and sports books are prohibited from taking bets from — and marketing to — anyone under the age of 21.

“The age group that is most at risk of developing a gambling problem are males 18 to 35,” Schuler said. “The younger ones are most vulnerable as they’re not at the age yet where they can thoroughly process the consequences of their actions. Not my opinion. Scientific fact.”

MattSchuler .jpeg
From Zoom interview on June 2, 2023.

Schuler said Ohio should consider banning all forms of betting by people under 21. But he argues the problem is most acute for sports betting.

“The target audience for sports gaming are males, theoretically 21 to 35 but I suppose in Kentucky, 18 to 35. So, you have this convergence of the target audience being the most at risk,” he said.

Northern Kentucky University senior Josiah Pokopac agrees “18 is a little young” for some bettors who lack knowledge and maturity.

“You can get addicted to anything though,” Pokopac said. “I just think you have to be disciplined. And that’s part of being profitable in sports gambling, you have to be disciplined.”

Pokopac, 22, is a sports-business major who played for NKU’s soccer team for three years. He placed his first sports bet at 18. He now has more than 20 betting apps on his phone, including Betstamp, a bet-tracking app offered by a Toronto company that pays him to be a brand ambassador.

“Their job is to take all the bookies’ numbers from one game and just spread it out so you can odds shop,” Pokopac said. “Literally, I have a bet in every day. It really depends on how I feel about the games, how much money I’m going to put on it.”

Pokopac said his sports betting activities have been mostly profitable and he’s never lost more than $250 on a single bet. But he can see how others could develop a gambling problem from the constant flow of offers that come from sports-betting apps.

His professor can see it too.

“I don’t think it’s the best social policy” to allow bets at 18, said Joe Cobbs, who chairs the sports business and event management department at NKU’s Haile College of Business.

Cobbs expects bigger sports books to steer clear of younger bettors in Kentucky because most states, including Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, prohibit under-21 bets. But he’s sure “there’ll be some of the medium-sized ones or ones that are trying to break into the market that will” take bets from 18-20 year old customers.

“If it’s legal they’ll find a way to take the bets,” he said.

The WCPO 9 I-Team contacted more than a dozen companies eligible for sports-betting licenses in Kentucky to see they will offer bets to people under 21. Only two responded.

“In response to your question regarding the age allowed for sports betting at Keeneland and Red Mile, our licensed operator, Caesars International, has determined that 21 is the age allowed at our brick-and-mortar facility,” said Jim Goodman, director of wagering development at Keeneland Association Inc.

BetMGM said it “has a strict 21+ betting policy in all states in which we currently operate,” but didn’t say whether that will be the policy in Kentucky.

Churchill Downs Inc. didn’t respond. But its HHR facilities, including Turfway Park and Newport Racing and Gaming, prohibit patrons from entering unless they’re 21 or older.

“I do hope that the licensed sports books choose to offer it to only those 21 and older as a matter of responsibility,” Schuler said. “They’re going to have a problem on their hands if they don’t do something on the front end for responsible gambling prevention and be prepared for treatment.”

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